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How Close Is Iran, Really, To Nuclear Weapons 299

Lasrick writes "A Reuters blog post by Yousaf Butt explains the science, or lack thereof, behind recent claims that Iran is closer to building the bomb. Butt has been writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, most recently blasting the unsourced AP 'Iranian graph' that claimed to show nuclear testing activity as well as the Washington Post story about Iran's alleged order of 100,000 magnets for their centrifuges."
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How Close Is Iran, Really, To Nuclear Weapons

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  • by Lawrence_Bird ( 67278 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @11:45AM (#43003395) Homepage

    Does Iran know how to build a basic weapon? Yes. But then again, so do a lot of others.

    Does Iran have the technological skills to make a war head small enough to be delivered on one of their missiles? Debatable, but inevitable and practice makes perfect. They could use some help with the CEP and range of those missiles too.

    Does Iran have anything other than a uranium based bomb available? Not at this time. And the chemical reprocessing necessary for irradiated fuel out of Arak or the TRR is not a layup. Years, if not a decade.

    How long will it take Iran to enrich to 90%+ their current LEU? A couple of months, tops. Most of the SWU's are spent just getting to LEU.

    Of course, left unsaid in all of this is... would Iran ever use a nuke? Given that India and Pakistan have not (and there is certainly no shortage of nutters in those countries), that Israel has 2-300, the USSR a few thousand... I think the resounding answer is no. Persians exports are carpets and pistachios, not glass.

  • Meh. (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lesincompetent ( 2836253 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @11:45AM (#43003401)
    How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.
  • by medcalf ( 68293 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @11:49AM (#43003447) Homepage
    Looking at his bio [fas.org], most of his work for FAS seems to be arguing against missile defense. He seems to be [wordpress.com] a bit of an activist. Basically, he comes across [politico.com] as a bit of an ostrich about Iran's nuclear program: nuclear weapons are bad, and war is bad; therefore if the Iranians are seeking nuclear weapons, it justifies ballistic missile defense (which he's against) and possibly an attack (which he's against) to stop Iran from reaching their goal; therefore Iran must not be seeking nuclear weapons. Not exactly a scientific chain of argument, but it seems to be the path he's on (based on that last link, and two of his other articles that I read through).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2013 @11:53AM (#43003495)

    What's the distance to North Korea? That's how close Iran is from having nuclear weapons TODAY.

  • by medcalf ( 68293 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:08PM (#43003691) Homepage
    Actually, I suspect that you misunderstand their objective. Oh, maybe stopping a US invasion is a secondary objective, but I don't think that's their primary objective. Their primary objective seems to be (if you take their word for it) bringing about a new Caliphate under Shi'a dominance. To that end, nuclear weapons would be a huge advantage.

    Iran wants to meddle deeply in the affairs of its neighbors, maybe assassinate those who don't play along, support those who strike at Israel (HAMAS and Hizb'allah, for instance) and the like. This furthers their objective of establishing a renewed Caliphate that they control. So when they do those things today, the US and the Saudis and the Emirates and others fight back in numerous ways. But we are very, very, very limited in what we can do once they have working nuclear weapons. And so even if they don't strike Israel (which they might, if they felt it could bring about their objectives), their possession of nuclear weapons would be hugely destabilizing for the region, and not in good ways.

    The two most likely responses though are that Israel would strike Iran to prevent them getting nuclear weapons (which might require a pre-emptive nuclear attack by Israel, given the range) or that the Saudis would also obtain nuclear weapons in an attempt to balance the situation and limit Iran's options. Basically, the Middle East is in the process of descending into an even bigger mess than it has been the last century, or millenium depending on how you measure it, and the US is not only not the prime mover in this, it's basically being ignored by all sides.

  • by Huntr ( 951770 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:17PM (#43003815)
    The only way to deter a US invasion is to have nukes. Iran does not have nukes. The US has not invaded Iran. Hmm. Care to take another whack at it?
  • by crazyjj ( 2598719 ) * on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:25PM (#43003915)

    The US has not invaded Iran.

    No, you're not looking at it from their perspective. Here is the timeline as they see it:

    U.S. declares us part of The Axis of Evil, then proceeds to invade one of the other members of that Axis. The U.S. then becomes bogged down in that other country (thanks in part to our heroic support of the insurgency). This leaves us (and the third member of the Axis) with a brief window to develop nukes, before the U.S. can regroup and prepare invasions for us too.

  • by Geoffrey.landis ( 926948 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @12:29PM (#43003973) Homepage

    Actually, I suspect that you misunderstand their objective. Oh, maybe stopping a US invasion is a secondary objective, but I don't think that's their primary objective. Their primary objective seems to be (if you take their word for it) bringing about a new Caliphate under Shi'a dominance.

    Just as a note; they wouldn't be interested in a Caliphate; that was an Arabic hegemony. Iraq might like to see a new caliphate, ruled once again from Baghdad, but Iran wouldn't. They would like to restore the Persian empire.

    --Basically, though, having the bomb would make them the big bullies on the block. It's more of the 90-pound-weakling-wanting-to-become-Charles-Atlas thing: once they have the bomb, they figure nobody's going to kick sand in their faces any more, and the world will pay attention to them, putting them back in (what they perceive to be) their rightful place as big boys deserving respect.

  • by catchblue22 ( 1004569 ) on Monday February 25, 2013 @01:29PM (#43004717) Homepage

    It is telling that during the Iran Iraq war, when Iraq used chemical weapons on Iranians, Iran did not respond in kind. In truth, it seems likely that many in the Iranian political class look at weapons of mass destruction with disgust. That said, they are obviously pursuing nuclear weapons to some degree. A source that I have, who is quite plugged into these things thinks that Iran wants to get a few months away from having nuclear weapons, and then hold short.

  • The 'talk' (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 25, 2013 @03:36PM (#43006625)

    Whenever some country comes close to the final development of nuclear bombs, the Americans and the Russians send a special ambassador to them to have 'the talk'.
        The talk goes something like this:
        "Well, we have been able to detect that you are close to developing a functioning nuclear weapon. Don't deny it, just shut up and listen.
          We and the Russians (or the Americans, depending on who's talking) have constructed a situation between ourselves where we both have enough hydrogen bombs to kill every living thing on earth and still have enough left over to blow up the moon. You, on the other hand, will so have enough nuclear weaponary to blow up a shopping mall and its parking lot. We and the Russians (or Americans, as the case may be) have our weapons set on hair-trigger automated response so that anything from a flock of geese to a stray alpha particle could set the whole thing off and take everybody with it. We're not exactly proud of this situation and would like to tone it all down a bit. But it has taken on a life of its own and basically, at this point, we're stuck with it.
            In this situation as it is and will continue to be, there's no room for half assed clowns like you. You are a pissant wild card that could easily blunder into fucking up the balance and causing the entire destruction of world civilization. We know that you don't think this way, and you believe that you have legimate reasons for making this nuclear bomb, but, frankly, you and any of your reasons don't mean shit to us or the Russians (or Americans).
          So here's the deal. You're not going to like it. But you don't have any choice. You are a third world peasant of no real consequence and we are the two countries that have 15000 hydrogen bombs between us. That means we rule the world that you live in and we decide the way things are going to be.
          We can't afford to have ANY nuclear event horizon happen that might escalate into global nuclear exchange. We aren't going to let August 1914 happen again where the assassination of minor playboy prince dominoed into a World War.
          So, if ANY nuclear event happens in your corner of the world, by anybody, for any reason, we are going to assume YOU are responsible and we and the Russians (or the Americans, again, depending on who's delivering 'the talk') are going to nuke your entire country past present and future into sparkling glowing dust.
          In other words, if you go ahead with this program of making a nuclear device, and then announce to the world that you have a bomb, and actually do a successful test of it (and we will know if you have), then you are going to have to take control and responsibility of all the crazy fools in your part of the world who also might somehow get a rogue nuclear device. And we all know that you have a lot of crazy fools in your part of the world.
          That's the way it is. The choice is yours.
            Have a nice day. "

        Basically the USA:USSR has given this talk to the Israelis, Japanese, Pakistanis, Indians, South Africans, and North Koreans so far. The Israelis and Japanese were smart enough to never acknowledging their bombs or (in the case of the Japanese) their ability to build one in a short time. The South Africans gave up their nuclear bombs when apartheit ended. The Pakis and Indians are happy to accept their own destruction if it means the destruction of the other Pakis and Indians because they believe that they'll just go to heaven and the other Pakis:Indians won't. And the North Koreans are too bat-shit crazy to care about anything anyway.
            This is just conjecture, but the Iranians will most likely accept the terms of 'the talk' and then settle into the nuclear community background like the Chinese, British, and French have. Basically a "don't fuck with us and we won't fuck with you" Golden-Rule stance that seems to work the best in this bad situation that we have all lived with since the 1960s.

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